With the boom in shale gas opened up by fracking, there’s been a lot more talk about natural gas as a “bridge fuel,” an energy source that could wean us off coal and smooth a transition to renewable energy. President Obama brought up this “bridge fuel” idea in this year’s State of the Union speech, a message echoed by the secretary of energy and Obama’s former “energy czar.” The natural gas industry, too, has been saying this for decades.
But regular Grist readers will have heard the counter-arguments: that natural gas is actually a “bridge to nowhere” or a “gateway drug.” One controversial factor that’s gotten a lot of attention lately is leakage — that is, if pipelines and other infrastructure leak a lot of methane gas, itself a powerful greenhouse gas, it could make overall emissions from natural gas as bad or worse than coal.
However, the debate over leakage may be a sideshow. As we show in a new study, published today in Environmental Research Letters, having more abundant natural gas is unlikely to cut emissions much on its own — and that’s true even with zero leakage.
We used a model called MARKAL to look at the effects on the U.S. electricity system ... Read more